Lincoln mill partly back online after explosion; layoffs possible

Posted Nov. 04, 2013, at 3:42 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 04, 2013, at 4:46 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — The local paper mill’s three tissue machines are online, but its two paper machines remained idle Monday after the mill’s recovery boiler exploded on Saturday, forcing a shutdown, officials said.

Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC co-owner Keith Van Scotter said company officials hope to restart one of the two paper machines at the Katahdin Avenue mill by week’s end, but paper production likely will be at least partly curtailed by the damaged boiler, which is crucial to the wood pulping process. Temporary layoffs are possible.

The boiler damage is extensive. This is a big project to handle. The impact on the business is that we are not able to run the pulp mill until we get it [the recovery boiler] repaired,” Van Scotter said Monday.

Bill Peterson, the mill’s vice president of human resources, told his mill’s United Steelworkers union employees to be ready to restart the No. 4 paper machine by week’s end, he said.

Whether layoffs will be necessary is unknown. Company officials hope to be able to determine that by Wednesday, Peterson said.

“We are not there yet. People have plenty to do at this point,” said Van Scotter, adding that a few workers had voluntarily taken days off.

The mill employs about 385 people. It makes tissue for party goods and medical uses, plus paper for file folders, envelopes and reply cards, he said.

The explosion occurred at the Katahdin Avenue mill’s recovery boiler, which is used to burn or recycle leftover chemicals and materials generated by the pulping process, about 7:23 a.m. Saturday. Lincoln, Lowell and Mattawamkeag firefighters cleared the scene about 40 minutes later.

Van Scotter described the recovery boiler as burning dissolved lignin, the chemical that binds pulp fibers during the paper and tissue-making process, and as recovering chemicals used to make paper. Boiler water temperatures typically rise to several hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

The boiler, he said, is about 40 years old, making it a somewhat older model by industry standards. It had been significantly refitted about eight years ago, and underwent its annual maintenance within the last few weeks, he said.

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